Say you caught an elevator ride with the President. You’ve got 45 seconds to say something. What would it be?

I’d talk about water.

Failing water infrastructure causes more illnesses every year in the United States than H1N1 did worldwide in 2009.

Aging water infrastructure wastes billions of liters of drinking water every day.

Inefficiency makes water utilities the single most energy-intensive industry: 13% of United States energy use originates from the water complex.

A 5% decrease in leaks in the United States would save 270 million gallons of water a day and 313 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually -- enough to power 31,000 homes. Not only that, but it would keep 225,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions out of the air. For just 5% better efficiency. Imagine 20%.

The cost to overhaul the water complex would make the President balk: $335 billion is a tough number to swallow.

But doing nothing is betting human lives on a losing hand.

I’d offer the President a moderate alternative: make water infrastructure smarter.

Install sensors, from companies like AUG Signals, Ltd., an Artemis Top 50 company, to monitor water pressure, quality and demand. Integrate software from Artemis Top 50 companies like Derceto, Optimatics and TaKaDu to model water use in real time, dynamically adjusting water delivery to its highest possible efficiency.

The relatively small investment would pay for itself. Utilities could visualize weaknesses in infrastructure, enabling them to prioritize repairs instead of blindly replacing good pipe along with the bad. They would predict failures and plan intelligently, scheduling infrastructure upgrades and distributing costs over a period of years, thus increasing the affordability of each phase.

Smart water monitoring would continue to benefit new infrastructure: sensors would analyze water quality in real time. Utilities would identify toxins immediately, without the long feedback loops inherent in traditional laboratory testing. They’d be able to preempt bacterial outbreaks, industrial contamination and terrorist attacks -- saving lives while reducing costs.

It’s a win-win opportunity: jump-start a new industry, increase water quality, reduce energy usage and carbon emissions, increase national security and prevent tragedies, all while saving billions of dollars now and tens of billions of dollars in the long run.

He’d have to say yes.


This post comes from the BlueTech Blog, an open forum for discussion on water issues sponsored by the Artemis Project. Artemis will announce its list of the top 50 water companies at its BlueTech Innovation Forum June 8 in San Francisco. (Disclosure: I'm participating. Water is one of the biggest issues out there.)